Bad dogma

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:33 pm

At the entrance to Stew Leonard’s famous dairy store in Norwalk, Conn., stands a massive rock on which is inscribed the founder’s two-part motto: “Rule 1: The Customer is Always Right! Rule 2: If the Customer is Ever Wrong, Reread Rule 1!”
The motto seems to have worked well for the retailer. But for the sales professional, the rock’s message represents a noble-sounding idea gone terribly haywire. “The customer is always right” is time-honored sales dogma that’s been coded into the DNA of most salespeople.
But it’s bad dogma. It’s time to expunge it from the bible on selling and recode salespeople’s DNA. We call this way of thinking the “customer advocate” mindset, though “master/servant mentality” is often a more accurate description. Simply put, it’s a mindset that’s costing companies a fortune. Even more problematic, most don’t even know it.
The DNA of
customer advocacy
Here’s one of the more familiar ways this customer advocate mindset plays out. Gary is a strategic account salesperson for a capital equipment company. Times just aren’t what they used to be at Gary’s company. Sales are slow. Suddenly, a request for proposal shows up in his inbox. He prints it and peruses it. Looks like a winner. Like most RFPs, this one will require input from numerous areas of Gary’s company – engineering, finance, production, etc.
He pulls the team together. About 12 man-days later, the proposal is off to the prospect ahead of deadline. Gary starts the follow-up process: “How are we looking?” “When will you be deciding?” After a few weeks of polite non-responses, things go quiet. Then, well, you know how the story ends.
Many salespeople would like to think they, unlike Gary, would never get lured into such a trap. Perhaps, but their world is filled with potential traps. For starters, every single meeting requested by a prospect or customer can be a trap. It’s the rare salesperson who instinctively questions the worth, to his or her own company, of each meeting request. Most embrace a philosophy that prompts them to accept such customer-requested meetings without much question.
Then there’s the endless flow of requests for product information, pricing discussions, pre-sales analyses, proposals, demos, technical evaluations, and on and on that can all be part of any sales campaign. Each of these represents yet another trap.
During a recent client meeting, the director of the client’s strategic accounts sales team related an exchange she’d had the day before. At the end of an account review with one of the company’s best SAMs (strategic account managers), the director asked about the SAM’s next steps with the account. “I’m taking a systems engineer and doing a capabilities presentation next week,” the SAM said.
Certain that it was too early for a capabilities presentation, the director asked why the SAM was doing it. Without missing a beat, he replied, “Because the customer asked for one.”
Once again, many SAMs would argue that such things do not happen to them. They know how to say “no” to customers. Perhaps. But our experience suggests that such things do happen to them, far too often. They’re just wired that way.
The extent of the customer advocate problem
Two items from a diagnostic we use with client sales organizations illustrate the extent of the problem. They seek to measure the extent of the customer advocate mindset and its opposite, the “mutual value” mindset, that exists among salespeople.
Exhibit 1 shows the first item, a question that takes on the deceptively innocent thank you note. Over 90 percent of our diagnostic respondents choose A, B, or C. Those three are really all the same answer because they reflect the belief that salespeople should send thank you notes. In our personal lives, we send thank you notes because someone does something nice for us or gives us a gift. When customers meet with us, are they doing something nice for us? Are they giving us a gift? No. Then, why do we feel the need to thank them for the meeting? Salespeople with a mutual value mindset choose D.
Those who choose D, a very small minority, know there is no reason to send thank you notes after a customer meeting. However, that does not mean that they don’t send a follow-up e-mail.
It may seem as though we’re encouraging you to develop a bunch of arrogant ingrates on your sales team. Come on back to this space next month for Part II of this subject and, if this is your perception at this point, we’ll add a bit more clarity to the picture.
Jerry Stapleton and Nancy McKeon are with Stapleton Resources LLC, a Waukesha-based sales force effectiveness practice. They can be reached at (262) 524-8099 or on the Web at
Exhibit 1
“I send a ‘thank you’ note after a customer/prospect meeting:”
a. Almost always.
b. Frequently, but sometimes I just don’t get to it even though I know it’s important.
c. Almost never, but if I had more time I would.
d. Almost never, because I don’t think there’s any reason to send them.
June 10, 2005, Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI

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